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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Will the West Defend Its Own Values Against Radical Islam?

Filed under: Iran, Nuclear Warfare, The Middle East, U.S. Policy

The report published by the chairman of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) asserts that Iran lied when it claimed it had never tried to develop nuclear weapons. According to the report, despite the limited information that Iran provided, it is certain that Iran conducted a full and organized military nuclear program up to 2003 and continued to pursue aspects of it in a less organized fashion at least until 2009. In light of Iran’s ongoing effort to conceal vital information, the IAEA report cannot determine how far the program progressed. The information the agency does possess indicates that progress was limited.

Medium-range Ghadr-1 missile, launched October 10, 2015
Medium-range Ghadr-1 missile, launched October 10, 2015 (Iran’s Fars News agency)

The IAEA report demonstrates that Iran’s cooperation in clarifying the state of the military dimensions of its nuclear program has been merely technical. Meanwhile, despite their avowals, the Iranians keep covering up information and hampering the agency’s work. Nevertheless, the United States was a partner to the resolution which called on the agency to close the Iranian file. At the same time, the United States is ignoring ongoing Iranian violations of UN Security Council resolutions and of the nuclear deal, such as acquiring the S-300 advanced air-defense system from Russia and conducting tests of medium-range missiles with a nuclear capability.

No one is surprised by the American behavior; it was clear from the beginning that it intended to be pliant. As soon as the Administration pinned all its hopes on an agreement that paves Iran’s way to an arsenal of atomic bombs and made the agreement into its cardinal achievement, Iran could do whatever it wanted without fear of being called to order. The regime in Tehran, realizing immediately the extent to which its status had changed, hastened to coordinate with Russia the dispatch of forces to Syria. There is more to come.

The U.S. Administration has a fascinating rationalization for its policy: it says all its moves are aimed at helping the moderate Rouhani fight the extremists in Iran. Thus, all U.S. capacities are now mobilized to strengthen Rouhani. In presenting matters in this light, the Administration’s spokespeople distort history in remarkable fashion. They forget that during Ahmadinejad’s tenure the Administration opposed sanctions, and that it began the direct nuclear negotiations long before Rouhani’s appointment/election as president.

Rouhani, the Supreme Leader’s Loyal Servant

This belated rationalization is also flawed because Rouhani is part of the leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and in the eyes of the Supreme Leader, Khamenei, Rouhani’s whole mission is to mislead the Americans and get the sanctions lifted. At that point the Islamic regime will gain strength domestically and expand its influence in the region with U.S. support, quietly reaching the status of a threshold nuclear state with no danger of a military attack and no need to cease its subversion, backing for terror, or its drive to expunge Israel from the region.

As Iran’s parliamentary elections approach, the Supreme Leader is allowing the “ultra-extremists” to intensify the pressure on the “realistic extremists” among Rouhani’s supporters as well as the repression of the population in general, underlining the fact that he is the person in charge.  Khamenei will not allow the agreement to be used to channel Western cultural influences – the real enemy of radical Islam – into Iran. At the end of the day, helping Rouhani means helping Khamenei.

The agreement with Iran, the recognition of Iran as a key actor in the region, particularly in Syria, and the easing of pressure on Iran’s lackey, Assad, have sown despair and anxiety among the Sunni pragmatists. A large portion of them concluded that under these conditions they had no future, and the result was the huge wave of migrants now flooding Europe. Another segment, particularly the leadership, vented its frustration over U.S. policy by turning to Russia. And another sector opted for radicalization, leading it to endorse the ultra-radical Sunni ideology of ISIS and Al-Qaeda. This sector, which also views Western culture as Islam’s existential enemy, is the breeding ground for the attackers in San Bernardino, Paris, and London. 

The West is now reaping the fruits of its weakness, as it turns to the “extremist-realist” camp in the region to counteract – even militarily – the ”ultra-extremists.” Other weak characteristics are its lack of understanding of the profound factors now shaping the Middle Eastern system; of the naïve worldview it has espoused, which prevents it from calling the enemy by its name – radical Islam in all its components; and of the cul-de-sac that Obama has entered, wanting at all costs to avoid ending his tenure with American soldiers deployed in Iraq and Syria.

The remedial strategy toward radical Islam must begin with recognition of the threat and with preparedness to take realistic measures to counter it. First of all, there must be a revolution in the intelligence domain. It cannot be that Muslim radicals are able to amass large quantities of weapons under the radar. Second, the West must stop treating representatives of the realistic Islamic extremists, Muslim Brotherhood organizations, and Western and regional supporters of the Iranian regime as its allies. This policy weakens the pragmatists and encourages radicalization.

Finally, the West must make clear that it is committed to its own values and prepared to defend them, while assertively and concretely supporting pragmatic elements that are waging an existential war against the various radicals. Settling for airstrikes, while using the ridiculous excuse that ground activity is what ISIS wants – since it longs for a mythical, decisive battle in the Syrian town of Dabiq – displays weakness and confusion and plays into the radicals’ hands. The admired Polish king and commander, John III Sobieski, went boldly into the decisive battle at the gates of Vienna in 1683, and his victory saved Europe and enabled the flourishing of Western culture. Can the West regain its resolve this time as well?

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A version of this article appeared in Ha’aretz in Hebrew on December 21, 2015